Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

laundry temperature: hot, warm,
or cold?

What laundry temperature is best for washing your clothes?

If you've ever pulled a pink shirt out of the washing machine when a white one went in, or put on a fresh pair of jeans that are still sporting the signs of last week's lunch, you know that even a simple task you've done hundreds of times can get complicated now and then.

This guide to choosing the correct laundry temperature can help sort things out.

why the right laundry temperature matters

How important is the right temperature? It directly affects the wrinkling of fabrics, the life span of your clothes and the performance of your laundry detergent - so follow the care labels.

Sure, the quickest - and seemingly safest - way to get the wash day jobs done is washing laundry in cold water, both whites and colors.

The down side to this all-together, washing in cold water strategy: Washing whites with colors often leads to whites turning a less-than-appealing gray or yellow color.

And, unless you're using one-to-one-and-a-half to two times the recommended amount of detergent, the lights and darks won't get completely clean, either. (That's because detergent doesn't clean heavily soiled clothes as well in cold water.)

So while it may seem quicker and simpler to wash everything in cold water, there's a reason you have a choice between hot, warm and cold water: Your clothes will look better, feel cleaner, and last longer when washed in the right temperature week after week.

when to wash in hot water

Hot water (domestic hot water temperature is generally 130 degrees F. or above; 54 degrees C. or above) works well on ground-in and hard-to-remove dirt on sturdy fabrics. 

Generally speaking, whites, very dirty or greasy clothes, and sturdy, color-fast fabrics that retain their dye can be washed in hot water. Still, few labels recommend regular hot water washing.

Use it to clean seriously soiled sturdy garments (gardening or children's clothing), and to regularly disinfect dish towels, washcloths, bath towels, bedding, and pillowcases. 

Light and dark fabrics should be separated as hot water may cause these clothes to bleed.

Delicate and coarse or sturdy fabrics should be separated to prevent abrasion and protect clothes from wear and tear. (Whites warrant the solo treatment no mater what the temperature.)

when to wash in warm water

Warm water (90 degrees F.; 32 degrees C.) minimizes color fading and wrinkling.

Choose warm water for light colors that won't run, regular and sturdy fabrics, towels, jeans, cottons, sheets, sturdy playwear, school uniforms, 100 percent manmade fibers, blends of natural and manmade fibers, and moderately soiled stuff.

when to wash in cold water

Cold water (80 degrees F.; 27 degrees C.) will protect most dark or bright-colored clothing from running and minimizes shrinkage. What clothes to wash in cold water?

Use cold water for lightly soiled fabrics and clothes with blood, wine or coffee stains, dark or bright colors that may run or fade, delicate fabrics including washable silk, Spandex swimsuits, and active wear; and delicate lingerie. It's also okay for lightly soiled clothes.

If you're going to do a cold water wash, check first for stains and treat the area with a laundry stain pretreater, and increase the amount of detergent to one-and-one-half to two times the recommended amount.

Detergent works by loosening dirt and gunk from fabrics. Then it holds the removed dirt in the wash water until it can be rinsed away.

If you use too little detergent (or the recommended amount for warm or hot water washes), clothes can become dully and dingy, white items may turn gray or yellowed, body soils are left on cuffs and collars, and lint isn't held in the water until it is rinsed away. Instead, it's redeposited on clothes.

If you do lots of cold water washes, consider using a laundry detergent designed to work in all temperatures. That way you can go back to using the recommended amount - and know your cold-water washes will get clean.

always chill on the rinse cycle

For the rinse cycle, cold water is excellent for all types of of loads. So use it! Another benefit: A cold water rinse saves energy per load by up to one-third, and helps minimize wrinkling in synthetic and sturdier fabrics.

› Laundry Temperature: Hot, Warm, or Cold?


Have your say about what you just read! Leave a comment in the box below.